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Bush Says Economic Foundations Strong

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

President Bush addressed the topic of Fannie and Freddie today at a White House news conference. The president said that two companies' stock will remain in private hands. And he echoed Ben Bernanke pushing Congress to pass legislation that would give the two companies access to an unlimited credit line. In general, Mr. Bush expressed his confidence in the U.S. economy.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA: This is not the way a president wants to begin a session with reporters.

(Soundbite of press conference)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's been a difficult time for many American families who are coping with declining housing values and high gasoline prices.

GONYEA: But this president, looking at this final six months in office, also wanted to highlight what good he could find.

Pres. BUSH: Yet despite the challenges we face, our economy has demonstrated remarkable resilience. The unemployment rate has risen; it remains at 5.5 percent, which is still low by historical standards.

GONYEA: One thing the White House did this year to give the economy a boost was to push a tax rebate to give money to back to consumers. Checks for $1,200 were sent this spring to those filing jointly, individuals got $600. But the impact hasn't been as big as hoped. Latest retail sales reports show an increase of just one-tenth of one percent for June, less than expected. The president was defensive when asked if he still insists the nation is not headed into recession.

Pres. BUSH: All I can tell you is we grew in the first quarter. I think I'm holding a press conference here and that same question came about assuming that we weren't going to grow. But we showed growth, it's not the growth we'd like, we'd like stronger growth. And I…

GONYEA: The president was asked if he'd consider yet another economic stimulus package before he leaves office. He didn't rule it out, but he said he'd wait to see the full effects of the tax rebates. Also at the news conference, he resumed his push for oil exploration offshore on the Outer Continental Shelf. He said he recognizes that such exploration won't have any immediate impact on gasoline prices, and he wouldn't predict when or if prices might begin to come down.

Pres. BUSH: I heard somebody say, well, it's going to take seven years. Well, if we had done it seven years ago, we'd have - be having a different conversation today. I'm not suggesting it would've completely created a, you know, change the dynamics in the world, but it certainly would've been - we'd have been using more of oil and sending less money overseas.

GONYEA: And the president expressed frustration that Congress has not given its permission for drilling in places like Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Then, the president was asked, why he hasn't done more using the megaphone of the presidency to ask the American public to conserve energy more aggressively. The reporter is Mark Smith of The Associated Press.

Mr. MARK SMITH (Reporter, The Associated Press): Why have you not, sir, called on Americans to drive less and to turn down the thermostat?

Pres. BUSH: They're smart enough to figure out whether they're going to drive less or not. I mean, you know, it's interesting what the price of gasoline has done is it caused people to drive less, that's why they want smaller cars, they want to conserve. And the consumer is plenty bright, Mark.

GONYEA: The president then added…

Pres. BUSH: And, you know, people can figure out where they need to drive more or less. They can balance their own checkbooks.

GONYEA: The news conference included a few questions about Iraq and Afghanistan, but the economy dominated. It's a topic that has become just as difficult for the president as the wars. He described himself again as an optimist, but he is also watching his term wind down with little time for a real turnaround on any of these fronts before he turns the key over to his successor.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.